Tuesday, 28 May 2013

REVIEW - Ford Focus ST-2

As one of the top selling cars around the world, it seems that every other car you see these days is a Ford Focus. And quite rightly so, because you will struggle to find a better all-round family car that suits all budgets. I previously reviewed the new 1.0-litre ECOboost engine and found it rather charming. But what about the people who crave that extra performance? The answer is simple- choose the ST version. I got my hands on one and excitedly set out on the open road...

Looks - 10/10

The first thing you noticed about my Focus ST test car was the colour. The previous model had the bright orange, and the Focus RS had the luminous green. The new ST has a very bright, orange-yellow metallic called 'Tangerine Scream'. Frankly I'd choose it for the name alone, but it does also look fantastic. The ST turned heads literally everywhere it went.

On to the car itself, the ST gets the modifications and styling touches you would expect for a hot hatch. There are some big 18" wheels, a full bodykit, the ST badging, big brakes, a spoiler, honeycomb grille and centre-exit exhaust system which really adds effect at the back. The lines themselves are every bit as nice as on the standard car, but the added kit really brings the sporty edge, and considering this is a practical 5-door hatchback, it really looks sleek and sporty.

On the inside things maintain the impeccable bar height. The Focus cabin is always a nice place to be, so when you throw in some deeply-bucketed Recaros, a chunky steering wheel, more ST badging and gloss black trim, the results are outstanding. There's even the boost and fuel/oil pressure gauges in the centre of the dash which show you're in a serious motor. The seats, as big as they are, don't make the cabin feel compact and there's plenty of space all round. As this was the ST2 model the seats are colour coded to the car, meaning more touches of yellow which add a certain boldness to the interior. The ST3 gets full leather seats, so if you're not a fan of the yellow seats then opt for that.

Handling/Performance - 10/10

The main reason you would choose the ST is this section here. And I shall start by making a simple statement. The Focus ST is a faultless car to drive. Genuinely, after a week with the car and a couple of tanks of fuel, I did not find one characteristic which could be a criticism. The stats tell half the story. The 2.0-litre ECOboost engine in the Focus produces 250PS and 360Nm of torque. That's a figure enough to haul the yellow-devil from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, and on to a top speed of 154mph. Far from glacial then. The 6-speed manual box is a joy, and really lets you work this engine.

You don't need to though, because at anything about 2,000 rpm this car will take off. Get about 3,500rpm and it will kick your teeth in and sprint towards the horizon. I never tired of that surge; the right pedal in the ST is as much the smile pedal as it is the loud one. And it's very much a loud one, thanks to Ford's innovative sound symposer. This feeds the induction noise of the engine into the cabin, making for the most beautiful soundtrack when you give it the beans.Overtaking is effortless in the ST, and then it goes to be a quiet and reserved motorway cruiser. As a family hatchback it's important for the sportiness to not ruin the practical aspects, and it does this well.

As for the handling, I had (understandable) reservations. 250PS is a lot to put through the front wheels of a car, which also have to worry about the steering. You would think that it would impact the drive, and make a noticeable difference when you attack a corner. However, the Focus ST is yet another credit to the Ford engineers, who have worked wonders with this chassis. There's very minimal torque steer, and far less understeer than you would expect. Turn the traction control off, and there's even a dab of lift-off oversteer to be had. The ST grips corners- hugging the apex- and then the 250PS pulls you out the other side. Show the ST a twisty A road and prepare yourself to be won over in an instant.

Economy - 9/10

Another pleasant surprise of the ST was that considering its performance credentials, it won't cripple you at the pumps either. Combined fuel consumption is a very respectable 39.2mpg, and CO2 emissions are 169g/km. This puts the ST in VED band H, meaning £200 for 12 months road tax. The slight let down is that in this band, the first year rate of £285 is a bit on the steeper side of things. All in all though you have to consider that this is a performance hatch, and the annual cost of road tax is no reason at all not to get one.

Practicality - 10/10

Despite all the spoilers, the turbocharger, and of course the large Recaros, the Focus ST is every bit of a practical family car as the 1.0-litre ECOboost was. There's a cabin big enough for five adults to sit in comfort, and a very sizable boot. The ST is no more difficult to drive than the other models either. In fact, with the quick steering you get on the ST- there's about a full turn of the steering wheel to full lock- parking is a doddle. Whilst they may be an option (at £75 I wouldn't lose sleep over them) the door edge protectors are a must-have. A simple strip of rubber which appears as you open the door could really save you damaging the Tangerine paintwork in a car park. I found the ST more than adequately comfortable whatever the road, and it was relaxing on a long drive. It really can do everything; from dropping the kids off at school to tearing its way down a country road.

Fun - 10/10

I'm sure by the time you reach this point in the review you will have realised I have nothing but good things to say about the Focus. And all the talk of smiling and power mean that the decision to score the Focus a perfect 10 for fun came oh so easily. There are so many ways in which this car can be fun that you never want to get out of it. It's one thing being able to blast round the countryside grinning from ear to ear, but you also have to appreciate the little things. Take the number of people who are going to walk into lamp-posts trying to turn for a second look at the ST as a prime example of this. Choosing Tangerine Scream and never losing your car in a car park is another. And finally, knowing that you're driving the world's most popular hatchback, but in a variant that you won't see every 10 seconds. That makes you feel elite.


Concluding Remarks

All in all, the Focus ST is a perfect car. I longed to give it the perfect 50 score, but sadly our friends at the government frown upon motorists having fun and penalise us through the road tax. It's a minor point though, and 49 is an incredible score for a car. It was with great reluctance that I handed the keys back to Ford, because I could quite easily have kept this car for myself. Few cars have left me feeling that way, and the ones that have will score well. I urge you to put some fun into your drive, and consider an ST when choosing a family car. Or even if you don't have a family for that matter. Visit the Ford website or visit a dealer for any more information. The Focus ST then, for those who want to maximise smiles per miles.

Total Score - 49/50

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